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The Hero Reaches Zoltan, in Search Of…

“I’m Ruti the Hero,” the blue-haired girl said as she held out a hand.

A fearful cold sweat began to form on my nape.

My name is Tisse Garland. I’m a member of the Assassins Guild and a bearer of the Divine Blessing of the Assassin. Only moments ago, I had joined up with the Hero’s party.

I never would’ve expected it myself, but no sooner had I been recruited than I found myself in some serious trouble. The Hero, Ms. Ruti, was a far more terrifying person to behold than I ever could’ve imagined. She appeared no different than a normal girl, but just feeling her cold, red eyes fall on me was more than I could handle. Beneath that gaze, all I could think was how badly I wanted to run and hide somewhere dark enough that she couldn’t find me.

The Hero’s hand was still extended toward me. Ignoring that seemed like a very bad idea. Supposedly, I was the person who’d been brought in to replace Ms. Ruti’s older brother, a knight named Gideon, because he’d left the party. After losing someone so important to her, there was no way the Hero wasn’t holding it against me. With caution, I took Ms. Ruti’s hand.

How can a palm exude such pressure?! I thought.

The one who’d hired me, Ares the Sage, smiled broadly as he watched us exchange pleasantries.

“This is Gideon’s successor. I’ll assume the routine tasks he handled before, but I’m afraid I’m ill-suited to the type of close-combat work he did. By all reports, this assassin is the best of the best, even among her guild’s elites. I’m sure she will be far more reliable than Gideon was.”

Mr. Ares’s introduction was meant as praise, but I couldn’t have felt more ill at ease. Comparing me to Gideon was only going to make things worse. Mr. Danan and Ms. Theodora looked me up and down with some very menacing expressions.

While I kept my face as placid as possible, that didn’t mean I didn’t feel anything. Things were so uncomfortable that my stomach was in knots. Despite how I might’ve appeared, I was the kind of person who got depressed when I couldn’t get along with other people.

Mr. Ares came over and placed a hand on my shoulder, nearly squashing Mister Crawly Wawly as he did. I fired a reproachful gaze at him, but he didn’t seem to register it.

Mister Crawly Wawly wasn’t so weak as to go out like that, anyhow. As if to reassure me, my pet spider tapped my shoulder with his leg to let me know that he was fine.

“Ares might’ve been the one who hired you, but you’ll be following my orders, not his. Will that be a problem?” Ms. Ruti asked.

“Not at all. Having multiple chains of command in a party with a handful of people could cause some confusion. I will obey your orders as everyone else does.”

My job was to support the Hero’s party. Mr. Ares was the one who’d found and recruited me, but the money I’d received had come from the party. That meant Mr. Ares wasn’t my actual employer—Ms. Ruti was.

From what I could tell, Mr. Ares was a very ambitious man. He always seemed to be planning for things after the demon lord was defeated. Making such plans was important, I suppose, but I’d only been brought on to help with the quest to defeat the demon lord, so I didn’t think about things like that very often.

“Okay. Here’s your first order. We were just about to go eliminate the dust dragons from the diseased swamp. They’re planning to join up with the demon lord’s forces. You are to come with us,” Ms. Ruti stated.

“You’re going to fight Vathek? The ancient dust dragon lord of the diseased swamp?”

Yikes… No one said anything about battling a dragon lord.

Ancient dragons were living legends. They were creatures that had lived for over a thousand years. Among such rare and powerful beings, Vathek had risen even further to become a dragon lord, the apex of the many dragons living in the diseased swamp.

If it’d been anyone else but Ms. Ruti, I would’ve thought it to be a joke. It clearly wasn’t, however, and I was left with no choice but to steel my nerves.

Sludge that stank of rot and decay rose as far as the knee. The bog’s wildlife and plants had all been warped by the constant presence of the dust dragons. From every which way, grotesque beasts glared at us as we trudged forward. A chorus of muddy, gurgling sounds could be heard all around. It felt as though the very marshland itself was against us.

Everyone living in the southwest knew of the diseased swamp. Vathek was the only member of the four ancient dragons of darkness who resided on Avalon.

Three ancient dragons of darkness and their followers had crossed the ocean from the dark continent during the war with the previous demon lord. Two had left when the demon lord’s forces had retreated, but the dragon lord Vathek had lost a wing in the battle with the previous Hero. Unable to fly back home, Vathek and its followers claimed dominion over a region that festered and became the diseased swamp after a time.

That powerful creature was going to be our opponent.

“Watch it! Get back!” cried Mr. Danan, the martial artist.

The ground around our feet started to sink. I frantically leaped back, but Mr. Danan and I were the only ones who managed to escape in time.

Mr. Ares was a sage, so he didn’t have any particularly great physical ability, and Ms. Theodora was weighed down by heavy armor. It made sense that they’d been caught. Ms. Ruti also found herself trapped. She stared blankly at the swirling ground below her.

“T-Tisse! Do something!” shouted Mr. Ares as he stretched a hand in my direction. I didn’t budge, however.

“Hurry up and throw me a rope! Did you panic already, you incompetent!” Again, Mr. Ares barked an order, but I didn’t so much as lift a finger.

As she sank past her waist, the Hero looked not to me but to Mr. Ares and signaled for him to look up.

“You take care of up there. I’ll take care of down here.” With that, the Hero leaped into the muck. As if on cue, six dust dragons, each the size of an elephant, dived down from above.


Two of them charged for Mr. Ares, who was still stuck and unable to move, but I leaped into the air and sliced them with my shortsword. They were the reason I hadn’t been able to assist Mr. Ares. Throwing a rope would’ve given the dragons an opening that could’ve meant our deaths.

“I will guard you, so please focus on your magic, sir…,” I said.

“I—I don’t need you to tell me that!” Mr. Ares snapped.

Battling a giant dragon that was flying through the sky above while stuck on the ground in mud that clung to your boots was not exactly favorable.

Glancing around, I saw that Mr. Danan and Ms. Theodora were each fighting a dragon separately. Apparently, it didn’t occur to them to fight together.

With an internal sigh, I leaped from the tiny spot I’d found that was free of sinkholes or sticky muck to rejoin the fight.

“Not too shabby,” Ms. Theodora complimented as she healed my wounds with magic.

Six dragons had attacked us from above. Of those, Mr. Ares and I had defeated two. Ms. Theodora had impaled one with her spear despite being unable to move. Mr. Danan had defeated the remaining three by himself.

Were it not for Mr. Ares’s powerful magic, I almost certainly would not have been able to finish off the pair I’d engaged.

I was quite confident that I was among the top five members of the Assassins Guild, but those three were far beyond me. More so than any of us, however…

“The Hero is quite remarkable,” I commented.

“She’s not regarded as humanity’s strongest warrior for nothing. The Hero’s on a totally different level than us,” Ms. Theodora responded with a distant look in her eyes.

The Hero conjured up some water and poured it over her head to wash the sludge away, with the corpse of a giant dragon at her back. It was the very same one that had dragged the party into the swamp.

While not actually Vathek, it was large enough that just about anyone would’ve mistaken it for a dragon lord. It was probably one of the older dragons that had survived the previous war.

To defeat a dragon of that magnitude would’ve normally required a force of several thousand. Successfully felling the creature would’ve made the commander of such an expedition a notable historic figure for the rest of time. Ms. Ruti had accomplished all that on her own. Even the hindering terrain of the mire hadn’t fettered her.

Perhaps noticing my gaze, Ms. Ruti bluntly stated, “I’m planning to defeat an enemy that no army would ever have a chance against. This much is nothing.”

She had a point. The Hero meant to slay a dragon lord who had fought alongside a previous demon lord several hundred years ago. Many had tried to fell Vathek in the past, but all had failed.

Such a mighty foe wasn’t even Ms. Ruti’s ultimate goal. Beyond the dragon lord was Taraxon, the current demon lord assailing Avalon. Failing to take out some no-name dust dragon in a swamp was out of the question for the bearer of the blessing of the Hero.

It was a bit late for it, but realizing that I was a member of Ms. Ruti’s party sent a shiver down my spine.

I loved heroic epics growing up. It was a fellow member of the Assassins Guild, a woman named Erin, who’d instilled the love of such stories in me.

Erin had a gift for spinning yarns, and she used to tell me all sorts of tales of daring exploit back when we shared a room.

The one where the orc hero Whitefang traveled the world in an airship and went on adventures to help the young slave girl he loved was my favorite.

Unlike other heroes, who were chivalrous to a fault, Whitefang was violent, quick to start a fight, and had a cruel streak. When it came to the one he loved, however, he never hesitated to rush into danger. I was probably drawn to that disconnect.

His story ended pretty differently from the usual sort, too. He’d lost his airship and was being pursued by wyvern knights led by the heavenly king of the wind. Undaunted, Whitefang never gave up and continued to run, crossing a desert without food or water, all while carrying his weakened beloved on his back. After a long journey, he finally reached allied forces.

The demon lord army’s careless pursuit of the orc had led them straight into enemy territory. The wicked evildoers were forced to retreat in the face of such a powerful counterattack from the high elf army.

“Then, Whitefang and the former slave girl were joined in an interracial marriage, and the two of them lived happily ever after in a small village in the north, far removed from the flames of war.”

Whitefang’s epic finished with the exact sort of happy ending that I loved.

Never had I guessed that I’d end up in a tale like the ones Erin used to recount. I suppose it was obvious, but the reality was quite different from fiction.

“What the hell happened, Ares?!” Mr. Danan shouted angrily. The man’s face was already scary, but now it was contorted in rage. “You were right about the Resist Poison potions keeping us safe, but all our food and water is useless now!”

Mr. Danan thrust a piece of dried meat, soured by the diseased swamp’s ambient miasma, at Mr. Ares. The sage was at a loss for words and glanced over at Ms. Theodora in a bid for assistance.

“If Lady Yarandrala were here, she could have at least purified some vegetables and fruits. The best I can do is create some water.”

“Th-that will have to do, then. We’ll just have to get by on only water for now. We should reach Vathek’s lair tomorrow,” Mr. Ares said with a nod. He was trying with all his might to force a smile across his pale face and convince Mr. Danan.

“Don’t screw with me!” Mr. Danan grabbed Mr. Ares by his tunic. “I checked to be sure, didn’t I? I asked you, ‘Is the food going to be all right?’ And what did you tell me, you son of a bitch?”

“No one could have predicted that the bog’s vapors would manage to get into our item boxes!” Mr. Ares cried as he pushed Mr. Danan back. Immediately, there was a dangerous tension between the two.

“I’ll go ahead by myself,” the Hero announced with her usual deadpan expression.

Mr. Ares and Mr. Danan both looked taken aback at that, putting an end to their argument.

“R-Ruti! Even for you, going alone is pretty reckless.”

“None of you can fight without food to eat, but I don’t need food, so it won’t be a problem.”

The Hero’s blessing afforded her many immunities. Undoubtedly, one of them somehow supplanted her need to eat. Even so, going off alone to fight the strongest dragon in all of Avalon seemed like a dangerous idea.

“There is no telling when Vathek might make its move. If the dust dragons decide to leave, they’ll cut a path of decay across the land. That’s why Vathek must be defeated here and now,” the Hero explained, her voice showing no trace of emotion.

Nothing in her words expressed patience nor concern for us and our inability to keep up with her. Everything about the way Ms. Ruti spoke was matter-of-fact and straightforward.

Mr. Ares, Mr. Danan, and I were rightfully bewildered, but Ms. Theodora stood up and nodded.

“There’s no proof that we’ll find Vathek tomorrow, and even if we stayed, we would just slow the search down. Until we find a solution to the food problem, we should entrust this matter to the Hero and head back.”

“Theodora!” Mr. Ares cried out reproachfully, but Ms. Theodora merely smiled ever so faintly.

“If I may?” I asked, raising my hand.

All at once, I felt every member of the party turn to look at me. Mr. Ares glared as though angered that I had spoken out of turn. Something in my stomach churned nervously.

“I think this should be edible.”

I pulled a pellet the size of a cherry wrapped in a packet out of my item box.

“It’s a kind of emergency ration that members of the Assassins Guild use. The paper wrapped around it has been coated with a medicine that prevents sewage and poisonous gas from contaminating it. The pellet itself also contains medicinal herbs prepared by an alchemist, so a single one can provide enough sustenance to maintain vital functions for one day. It tastes like mud, though, so I can’t promise they’re very tasty.”

There were times when a hired killer had to wait in sewage for days at a time. This secret compound had been developed to keep you alive in that sort of situation. The recipe was a trade secret, but giving a few to my party members so they wouldn’t go hungry was likely all right.

“Food from an assassin… Is it really edible?” Mr. Ares eyed the little pellets suspiciously.

“Nice—you’re a lifesaver.” While Mr. Danan’s face was still red from his previous exchange, a smile spread across his face. He took one of the little balls from my hand, tore through the wrapping that usually required a knife to get through, and tossed the tiny sphere into his mouth.

“Wow, that really is nasty,” he said.

“I’m sorry. Also, you need to suck on it for thirty minutes without swallowing it,” I added.

“That right? Either way, thanks. I wasn’t sure what to think of you since Ares was the one who brought you on board, but you’re pretty useful to have around.”

Please stop! I screamed in my mind. Wording it that way will only make Mr. Ares angry with me!

Internally, I felt a hot wash of trepidation crash over me. I made sure not to let it show on my face, however.

“A bit disillusioned?”

A voice called out to me as I was setting up camp. Turning around, I saw Ms. Theodora. I tilted my head, unsure what she meant.

“We look a mess, right? We’re a rather ill-prepared bunch for being the group that’s supposed to save the world.”

“…I wasn’t thinking anything like that,” I replied.

It was true that the party had terrible teamwork. The Hero always faced off against the strongest enemy while the remaining members just divvied up any weaker creatures among themselves. Because each individual was so mighty, it still worked anyway, but if the opponents were more powerful, the party members would surely end up getting picked off one by one instead. As an assassin, I’d been trained to use everything at my disposal to gain the upper hand. That included cooperation with allies, so it was difficult to work in this group.

“Things weren’t always this way, you know.”

Ms. Theodora was watching the Hero, who had carelessly laid down her holy sword and was just staring off into the distance.

“Not that long ago, we all worked as a team. Together we pinpointed enemy weaknesses and always knew when to go on the offensive or defensive. The Hero paid attention to what was happening with her comrades while she fought, instead of just fighting alone, too.”

“Was it because of Mr. Gideon?”

“Yes. It changed after we lost Sir Gideon. Ever since, the party has fallen apart.”

Gideon Ragnason. I had heard that the reason I had been added to the party was because he’d left. As Mr. Ares described it, he had been holding the party back. That didn’t really seem the case to me, though.

“We encountered a similar corrosive effect to the one this swamp has back in a place called the Bloody Sewers. Sir Gideon had dealt with it by covering the item boxes with a special cloth beforehand. It was probably similar to the wrapping paper that your pellets use… He always made sure to take care of anything that might’ve hindered our combat capabilities. He didn’t have any skills, and yet we’ve descended to such a state without him.”


“It was the same in combat as well. Sir Gideon didn’t just give orders without explanation. He understood his position as an aide for the Hero and somehow coordinated things so well that it allowed us all to do as we liked. Looking back on it now, it’s a wonder to think how he managed it.”

Ms. Theodora closed her eyes in recollection. Her words seemed more for herself than me. Not knowing what to say, I remained silent.

“Lady Yarandrala left, and no one in the group trusts one another anymore. Sir Gideon was crucial to this party… So why did the Hero…?”

As Ms. Theodora slipped into thought, I quietly moved away. The more I saw, the less confident I was that the party would hold together.

The search of the diseased swamp took far longer than anticipated. The map of the area that Mr. Ares had obtained from a local lord wasn’t reliable.

We pushed our way through the toxic bog while battling dust dragons from above and other creatures like parasitic frogs from below.

As an assassin who had been trained to endure harsh environments, even I was getting fed up with it.

To make matters worse, a certain someone was shouting.

“Try to pay a little attention, Danan! You don’t have to inform me every time your worthless, goblin-level instincts sense something!” Mr. Ares spat.

“What’d you say?! I’m tellin’ you because your directions are goddamn worthless!” Mr. Danan shot back.

It was the third fight of the day. Searching for Vathek was tiresome enough, and these arguments were only making it worse.

Ms. Theodora sighed, clearly already fed up herself. The Hero, however, paid the squabble no heed as she silently continued looking for the dragon lord.

Seven days passed, and we still hadn’t turned up anything.

After Ms. Theodora had run herself ragged maintaining a protective barrier for days, we finally happened upon Vathek’s nest. As befitted a greedy dragon, it had built a treasure vault out of stone in the middle of the rotten sludge and was sleeping atop the treasures it had stolen from humans.

At some point in the distant past, the golden luster of the many valuable items had no doubt illuminated the swamp. However, much of their sheen had been eaten away by the toxic body fluids of the dust dragons. They were little more than dull bits of gray trash at this point.

“Who would dare stand before me?” boomed the dragon. The leathery thing was clearly a full size larger than any of its kind we’d encountered thus far. There was an unpleasant sound that issued from its scales as it rose up.

“That’s the dragon lord Vathek!” Mr. Ares shouted as he formed a sign with his left hand.

“So thou art the rumored Hero? Turn back, child. I am Vathek, the lord of impurity who causes the very earth itself to stagnate.”

“Filth should be incinerated! Firestorm!” Mr. Ares’s magic created a swirling mass of flame.

Vathek was consumed by the storm of fire but did little more than grin. After opening its mouth to reveal rows of uneven teeth, it breathed a corrosive poison along with bits of things it had eaten in the past. Shards sped through Mr. Ares’s burning maelstrom, catching aflame before raining down on us.


Before Mr. Ares could even say anything, I had already grabbed the back of his clothes and dragged him as I sprinted behind a nearby boulder.

“Oy, Ares! Your goddamn fire’s getting in the way! I can’t get close!”

It was hard to believe, but Mr. Danan was dodging the flurry of incoming projectiles. Similarly, Ms. Theodora was spinning her spear to deflect anything that came her way. The Hero, however, wasn’t even pretending to defend herself. She just stood there, unmoving, as a hail of metal and fire assailed her.

“I could have dodged that much if it hadn’t attacked right after I used my own spell.” Mr. Ares was busying himself by making excuses, but it was hardly the time. The conjured flames were keeping Mr. Danan from attacking Vathek. On the positive, they were also preventing the dragon from moving as well.

Apparently, Mr. Ares intended to wait until Vathek exhausted itself while trapped in the swirling conflagration.

“This isn’t an enemy that can be pinned down by a single spell,” the Hero said before leaping into the fire with her sword at the ready.

Just as she’d asserted, Vathek paid no heed to its burning flesh as it swung its bony tail to knock the Hero aside. Ms. Ruti proved swifter, however.

With a loud, resounding slice, the dragon stopped moving. My eyes caught the glint of the Hero’s holy sword shining amid the flames.

There was a slithering sound as the dragon’s neck slumped. Its head collapsed atop the gathered treasure, and the blood bursting from its neck poured down over the collected heap. Vathek’s toxic blood instantly rendered whatever valuables had remained intact through the years utterly worthless.

Vathek, the dragon lord, was dead.

Mr. Ares raised a cry of victory, but the Hero didn’t appear to be in a festive mood. Instead, she was looking all around as though suspicious of something. Her sword remained at the ready.

Suddenly, three black pillars of water rose from the swamp.

“Impossible! Wasn’t that Vathek?!” Ms. Theodora shouted.

Three giant dragons appeared from the liquid spires, each the same size as the one Ms. Ruti had just defeated.

“No, none of the ones we’ve seen are Vathek,” responded the Hero quietly.

How she’d been able to predict that, I couldn’t even begin to hazard a guess. Who could’ve known that Vathek, the most powerful being on Avalon, was using body doubles in order to lure people into a trap?

In unison, the three duplicates bore down on Ms. Ruti.

“Skill: Assassin’s Survival.”

In the blink of any eye, the Hero was no longer the one standing before them. My heart cried out in terror as I readied my sword.

Assassin’s Survival was a skill that allowed me to instantly switch places with an ally. Traditionally, it was meant to be used to swap with a well-armored party member who could survive an oncoming attack. I had used it in a slightly different way, however.

I pierced the stunned dragon’s neck with my sword. It was little more than a pinprick considering how large the creature was, but someone with an Assassin blessing was capable of killing an opponent even with a tiny needle.

My blade tore into a vital spot where crucial nerves and blood vessels crossed. The dragon’s body convulsed for a moment before collapsing to the ground.

“How dare you!” the remaining two foes roared in a rage. That attack had only been possible because the dragons hadn’t been aware of my presence. It was impossible to repeat now that I had their attention. Even if that wasn’t the case, I didn’t have any skills capable of handling two powerful foes at once.

I raised my arms to protect myself and prepared for giant fangs to tear into my body.

Such an outcome never came to pass, however, for all the dragons’ teeth had been shattered.

“Yeah, this feels more like how things used to be.”

“We’re just moving as we please, and yet the party is naturally coming together.”

Mr. Danan and Ms. Theodora were standing to cover for me. The former’s fists and the latter’s spear had each sent one of Vathek’s doubles flying back.

Seeing that, the Hero dashed forward at full speed. Passing by us, she leaped into the air with her holy sword thrust above her head.

Simultaneously, the real Vathek emerged from its concealment magic and appeared behind us.

“Hero! Thou shalt die here at my hands!” The bellowing creature was missing one of its wings, just as the legends had described. With a deep roar, the dragon lord made known its hatred for the Hero—the one who had stolen its appendage many years ago.

Vathek opened its maw and unleashed a breath attack unlike any I’d ever seen. The usual large bits of metal had been broken down into fine particles that were interspersed with the jet of toxic liquid.

“Oh shit! Look out!” Mr. Danan warned as we leaped away from certain death. I shuddered as I saw the corrosive blast split the rocky dragon’s nest in two.

“Ms. Hero!” I reflexively shouted as the attack closed in on her. The Hero had left herself too exposed after jumping up into the air. To my surprise, she glanced at me and nodded slightly, as if to say that everything would be fine.

Clenching her left hand into a fist, Ms. Ruti knocked the acidic blast of dragon’s breath aside!


There was an explosion, and blood spewed from the dragon lord’s mouth—backlash from having its strike deflected.

Vathek staggered back, unable to believe what’d just happened. I could hardly grasp the situation, either. Somehow, Ms. Ruti had knocked back an attack that had cut through stone and ruptured the dragon lord’s throat via the resulting shock wave of her punch carrying through the liquid Vathek was expelling.

Clutching her sword in her right hand, the Hero brought it down and, in a single motion, cleaved the head of the strongest creature on Avalon clean off.

I was lying on the ground.

“…Huh?” I asked reflexively.

“Are you okay?” Ms. Theodora was peering down at me, a bit of concern troubling her expression.

“It appears the dust dragons’ toxic gas got to you,” she informed.

“…My apologies.”

Compared to the rest of the group, my blessing level was still quite low. Evidently, I was unable to endure the poison that hardly troubled any of the others. I was a little ashamed.

“Sheesh, I paid a pretty payril for you. Can’t you manage a bit better than that?” chided Mr. Ares.

I was about to apologize, but someone else cut in.

“Tisse did well,” Ms. Ruti stated.

Mr. Ares frantically muttered a quiet excuse for himself before holding his tongue.

“Tisse, why did you help me?” the Hero asked while looking me square in the eye.

Meeting that crimson gaze, I couldn’t help but gulp.

“Because I thought you were in danger,” I replied.

The Hero was the crux of this party. My death wasn’t much of a setback, but if Ms. Ruti fell, everything was lost. That was why I’d tried to protect her. I wanted to explain as much aloud, but I was far too nervous.

“I see,” the Hero said after a moment. She nodded and stood back up. “Thank you.”

It came as no small surprise to hear such words from Ms. Ruti, but I was certain I hadn’t misheard her.

Mr. Danan suddenly burst out laughing at the scene. Ms. Theodora looked shocked as well but smiled nonetheless. While baffled, Mr. Ares quickly recovered and reminded everyone that it was he who had picked me out.

At that moment, we were as much a party as any other. Unfortunately, it was the first and last time that ever happened. The Hero only went on to grow stronger and stronger, and we continued to fall further behind.

Never again was there a time when I could help Ms. Ruti. She always fought alone, and she always won. The best we could do was hurry along after her.

Mr. Ares became more and more isolated, Mr. Danan was always sullen, and Ms. Theodora was always worried about the state of the party. Unable to do anything myself, I began to dwell on the fight with Vathek.

I began to suspect that Ms. Ruti had been reminded of someone else when I’d moved to save her. Doubtless, it was the only person in the world who’d ever been in a real position to protect the Hero. I held no delusions about ever being able to replace him…


The Hero’s voice called to me as I floated adrift in memories long past while staring idly at the instruments dotting the helm of the airship.

I turned and saw that Ms. Ruti’s cold red eyes were peering right at me. Instantly, I felt the air get sucked out of the room.

“I can see lights,” she said.


Walking out on the deck, I shivered as a cool night breeze caressed my cheeks.

Ms. Ruti pointed off into the distance. I followed the line of her arm and spied a cluster of glowing shapes.

“You’re right; that’s Zoltan,” I confirmed.

“I see. So we’ve finally arrived.”

The Hero’s gaze remained transfixed by the distant lights that glowed in the dark like fireflies.

“Thank you,” Ms. Ruti said.

“Eh?” I stammered, surprised.

“For bringing me all the way out here,” she added without looking away from Zoltan. That marked the second time the Hero had ever thanked me. I wondered if perhaps I’d managed to help her out again.

“So, that’s Zoltan.”

Brushing her blue hair down as it danced in the wind, Ms. Ruti’s lips curled up into an almost imperceptible smile.

I had no idea what the Hero could’ve wanted in such a nowhere sort of place, nor did I have a clue as to what was going to happen when we arrived. One thing was certain, however…

Zoltan was dead ahead.

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